Written by Carla Parker
Three years ago, a 13-year-old softball player noticed that a strange man was constantly watching her during games.
Whenever she played first base, the stranger would stand behind the first base fence and watch her. When she was at third base, the stranger would go to the third base fence. One day, when she came out of the bathroom the man was in her face when she opened the door.
The girl told her mother, Margie Gill, the man scared her. Since then, Gill and her husband began going to every practice and game to protect her. When Gill saw the man and began observing his behavior, Gill came to one conclusion.
“This guy was stalking my daughter,” she said. “We don’t know where he came from. We just noticed that he would appear at her softball games.”
Gill said it was obvious that the man was stalking her daughter because her daughter was the only Black girl on the team and the stranger was also Black.
“The other parents assumed he was with us and I told them, ‘no, he’s not with us,’” Gill said.
Gill got the police involved, but was told that they could not do anything because the stranger was not breaking any laws. The situation became more frightening when the same man got a job at a clothing store two minutes from Gill’s home.
“When we went into the store and saw him and he saw us, he jetted out the door,” she said. “My husband [followed] him, and he jumped in his car and drove off. We knew it was something up with this guy, and we listened to our instincts.”
Gill and her family never saw the man again. A year later, Gill’s daughter received a message on Facebook from a person claiming that he was from Nigeria. The man was telling Gill’s daughter that he loved her and was coming to get her and take her to Nigeria.
Gill believes the two incidents were attempts to recruit her daughter into child sex trafficking.
Child sex trafficking has become a major issue in metro Atlanta, including DeKalb County. According to the FBI, Atlanta is a hub for human trafficking–the No. 1 city in the sex industry. According to a 2014 report by the Urban Institute, pimps can take in $33,000 a week in Atlanta, where the sex business brings in an estimated $290 million per year.
According to a 2010 research study by the Schapiro Group, 12,400 men pay for sex with young females in a given month in Georgia; and more than 27,000 men pay for sex young females in Georgia multiple times per year.
Not only are 65 percent of men with young females doing so in and around suburban metro Atlanta, but 9 percent of men who pay for sex with young females in metro Atlanta gave their location as near the airport, according to the Schapiro Group’s study.
Young girls who are bought are often forced to perform sexual acts on men a minimum of three times a night, according to reports. If there is a major event in town, a child can be forced to give sexual favors up to eight times a night.
In an effort to save girls from this environment, Gill’s church’s, Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church in Decatur, started the Tabitha’s House initiative. The initiative was a vision of the church pastor, Dr. E. Dewey Smith, who wanted the church to provide a place of “rest, safety and comfort that empowers supports and protects young females who have been victimized through sex trafficking,” according to the church’s website.
“Our main goal is to make a difference,” said Gill, who is the executive director for Tabitha’s House, a 501c3 nonprofit organization. “We have to stop this atrocity that’s happening in our own backyards.”
According to GeorgiaCares, there are only two locations in Georgia that house sex trafficking survivors. Since launching in June 2013, Gill and her staff have put policies and procedures in place to get the program running. Although they do not have a facility yet to house the victims, they are still taking rescue calls for adults and children.
“We never leave anyone out there,” Gill said. “We provide services to everybody.”
Tabitha’s House has also partnered with the governor’s office, DeKalb County, local doctors and therapists, and the department of human services in DeKalb to provide services to those that have been identified as child sex trafficking victims.
“We want to provide things that can keep that child occupied in a positive way and to show them other productive ways of living that are available,” Gill said. “We want to match them up with mentors so they can see a different side of living.”
Gill said she and 137 volunteers are communicating with schools, churches and the community to spread the word about child sex trafficking.
“We have to have more attentive eyes on our children,” she said.
Tabitha’s House is accepting donations to have funds in place to take care of the girls once the facility opens. Gill said the average cost to care for a sex trafficking survivor is $3,000 to $6,000 a month per girl. The organization is also accepting more volunteers.
“We need more people who can advocate,” Gill said. “We need more people who cannot just lend their thoughts and prayers, but we need some foot soldiers who can get out there and help us spread the word that children deserve to be able to live freely and safely and not be exploited.”
For more information on Tabitha's House or to contribute to help STOP this atrocity, please go to www.houseofhopeatl.org